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geriatrics(jĕrēă`trĭks), the branch of medicine concerned with conditions and diseases of the aged. Many disabilities in old age are caused by or related to the deterioration of the circulatory system (see arteriosclerosisarteriosclerosis
, general term for a condition characterized by thickening, hardening, and loss of elasticity of the walls of the blood vessels. These changes are frequently accompanied by accumulations inside the vessel walls of lipids, e.g.
..... Click the link for more information. ), e.g., mental deterioration and disturbances of motor and sensory function are often associated with an insufficient blood supply. Older persons are more prone to gastrointestinal disturbances, partly because of a reduced blood supply to the gastrointestinal tract and partly for other reasons, such as poor dentition. Changes in bone tissue, primarily osteoporosisosteoporosis
, disorder in which the normal replenishment of old bone tissue is severely disrupted, resulting in weakened bones and increased risk of fracture; osteopenia results when bone-mass loss is significant but not as severe as in osteoporosis.
..... Click the link for more information. in postmenopausal women, create susceptibility to fractures. There may also be diminished pulmonary function due to degenerative changes in the lungs. Elderly males may suffer from prostatic enlargement (see prostate glandprostate gland,
gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It is an organ about the size of a chestnut and consists of glandular and muscular tissue. It is situated below the neck of the bladder, encircling the urethra.
..... Click the link for more information. ), often accompanied by urinary obstruction. Obesityobesity,
condition resulting from excessive storage of fat in the body. Obesity is now usually defined using a formula known as the body mass index (BMI), in which weight (in kilograms) is divided by height (in meters) squared.
..... Click the link for more information. , causing increased strain on the heart and blood vessels, is also a serious problem of the aged.
The exact cause of agingaging,
in biology, cumulative changes in an organism, organ, tissue, or cell leading to a decrease in functional capacity. In humans, aging is associated with degenerative changes in the skin, bones, heart, blood vessels, lungs, nerves, and other organs and tissues.
..... Click the link for more information. is unknown, but genetic factors are known to influence longevity. Moreover, it is believed that highly reactive substances called free radicals can cause cumulative damage to body cells and tissues, and that aging cells are more susceptible to malignant changes. These factors have made geriatrics an important specialty, particularly since the proportion of elderly persons in the population is increasing steadily. Geriatrics is one of the fields included in the general study of old age, or gerontology, which covers psychological, economic, and social factors as well. Both public and private institutions are spending large sums of money for research in geriatrics and gerontology.
See R. Andres et al., ed., Principles of Geriatric Medicine (1985); W. Cunningham and J. Brookbank, Gerontology (1987); L. Hayflick, How and Why We Age (1994); J. Carter, The Virtues of Aging (1998).